This blog represents most of the newspaper columns (appearing in various Colorado Community Newspapers and Yourhub.com) written by me, James LaRue, during the time in which I was the director of the Douglas County Libraries in Douglas County, Colorado. (Some columns are missing, due to my own filing errors.) This blog covers the time period from April 11, 1990 to January 12, 2012.

Unless I say so, the views expressed here are mine and mine alone. They may be quoted elsewhere, so long as you give attribution. The dates are (at least according my records) the dates of publication in one of the above print newspapers.

The blog archive (web view) is in chronological order. The display of entries, below, seems to be in reverse order, new to old.

All of the mistakes are of course my own responsibility.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

January 20, 2011 - life phases and the library

According to Hindu philosophy, there are four stages of life:

* the student,
* the householder,
* the retired person, and
* the ascetic or "forest dweller."

In the first phase, you receive values and teaching. In the second phase, you live or embody them. In the third phase, you transmit values and teaching as an older mentor and grandparent. And in the final phase, you transcend values, leaving everything behind to wander into the forest, seeking wisdom.

In modern times, each of those phases seems to subdivide into others.

For instance, "student" would now seem to encompass infant to toddler, toddler to preschooler, preschooler to puberty, puberty to college. Each has a distinct transition, marked by stages both of brain development and emotion.

"Householder" stretches from just starting out -- your first job, car, or apartment -- through launching a career or careers, marriage or marriages, children, and (for some) to the transition from the absorbed self to conscious and active social participant.

"Retired person" starts from mid-life and its dawning realizations, through the empty nest, right up to actually leaving the full-time job whose pursuit seemed so important for so long.

In American life, the "forest dweller," the wandering monk, doesn't get a lot of attention. But with 10,000 Baby Boomers now turning 65 every day, I suspect we'll see at least one big social movement like that.

Knowing my generation, I fear for the forest.

Most of what we celebrate in our culture focuses on the dramatic transitions of the first two phases of life. "Coming of age" stories have great sweep and power. We fall in love, take big risks, go to war. The turning goes from passive to active, from hearing about things to doing things. Particularly in America, we like bright beginnings. And we glory in the beauty of youth.

But that perspective doesn't always serve us. It can't always be spring and summer, not even in California. The subtle rhythms of the full year, and its lessons of harvest and wintering, have their own power and poignancy.

I believe we find meaning in our lives through the gathering and telling of stories. We may well have to reach into other cultures and times to find patterns that have more to teach us than we find close to home.

This may be one of the great values of the library. We have, of course, many dedicated users. They were taken to the library as children, and developed a nourishing and engaging habit of library visits, with only minor interruptions.

But for many others, the library exists in the background, as taken for granted and unseen as fire hydrants. But then comes a life transition: the loss of a child or spouse, an illness that hastens withdrawal from that second phase of life. Suddenly, your life is on fire, and the presence of a deep connection to life-saving water from far away is literally transformative.

We hear, and tell, such stories in the library every day. Students become householders. Retired executives become literacy tutors. It's even possible that one or two seasoned souls are beginning to reckon up their lives and pan them for gold.

There are many stories in our community, and that community stretches across cultures and times, and the transitions that make us human. The library makes that connection strong.

LaRue's Views are his own.


  1. This a really beautiful and thought provoking piece, Jaime! With lifespans expected to stretch further than has ever occurred in human history, perhaps there will need to be another phase between householder and retired...or retired and woods dweller.
    Baby boomers will continue to make a huge impact as they transition to Fall and Winter...it will be fascinating to watch...and follow after.

  2. Very nicely said, Jamie. As a sidenote, I've decided that the library will be my forest, when I reach the forest-dweller stage.

  3. Thank you both. Laura, be careful about following those Baby boomers. We don't always look before we leap.